The growth of tourism in South Africa can best be described as a story of cooperation between government and industry.

Addressing BARSA members at the final general meeting of 2016 in Sandton in November, Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom, highlighted the common desire for increased and sustained growth within the tourism and aviation sectors. And this, the Minister said, is where aviation plays a pivotal role – bringing tourism to South Africa and around Africa.

To this end, efforts had been made to work with airlines in achieving a growing and sustainable tourism industry, resulting in great strides being made to improve ease of access, Minister Hanekom said.

Two key elements that government has identified are the visa requirements for international visitors to the country, as well as affordable and extensive  flight connectivity.

The most recent statistics show that for the first eight months of 2016, the South African tourism sector has recorded 14.6% growth and, even more notable, a 23% increase in overseas arrivals to the country.

Arrivals from Asia, China and the Middle East saw an impressive recovery, which the Minister attributed to the elimination of negatives such as visa requirements, the favourability of the exchange rate and the end of the Ebola crisis.

He added that an increased number of  flights  to South Africa had also assisted in the rapid recovery of the country’s tourism figures. Achieving the ultimate goal comes down to making the visitor experience better and easier, the Minister said.

The aviation sector plays a vital role in offering affordable airfares and creating healthy competition to provide the most convenient and affordable flights.

Global forecasts are that in 20 years, the aviation sector will have shown so much growth that an additional 500 000 pilots will be required, and South Africa should put its focus on creating an environment to invite this growth.

In terms of visa requirements, the Minister made it clear that due processes and procedures must be followed to ensure the safety and security of citizens and visitors in the country.

The Minister said since 2014, when new immigration regulations were tabled, South Africa has come a long way in improving the ease of access for international visitors, including doing away with in -person visa applications in some countries.

On the topic of the Unabridged Birth Certificate (UBC) requirement, the Minister said submissions have been made for amendments to the regulations, and these have been gazetted for comment. He also added that an advisory body – the Immigration Advisory Board – has been established to guide government on the best way forward on matters such as visas and the UBC requirement.

In conclusion, the Minister said government was well aware of the current frustration of both passengers and airlines regarding the long immigration queues at ORTIA as a result of the biometric data collection. While there is no easy fix, the Minister said funds will be allocated to recruit additional immigration officials should these be required.